This article details an Icelandic trip we took with our two children (ages 1.5 and 4 years) for five days in August 2015. Our full itinerary (with maps) can be found here. Iceland with Kids, Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
On our fourth day in Iceland we decided to check out Iceland’s famous Golden Circle, which consists of three attractions: Gulfoss (waterfall), Geysir (a mini Yellowstone, complete with geysers and hot pools), and Thingvellier National Park, home of Iceland’s first congress.
So it’s time for a little honesty: The Golden Circle is a big tourist draw for Iceland. And it’s cool: the waterfall is enormous, Geysir and the hot pools are pretty, and Thingvellier is stunningly beautiful. But do they do come with hordes of people, particularly Gulfoss. This is mostly due to the GC’s close proximity to Reykjavik, clocking in at only 45 minutes from Iceland’s capital. So, just be prepared for people and you’ll be fine. They’re definitely worth visiting.
We visited in summer: this is Gulfoss at it’s lowest; in winter the river is cloaked in icicles and is also impressively stunning. Visiting Iceland during the colder months must be an incredible experience: ice cave treks, steaming hot pools, and magnificent northern lights. I’d love to go in the winter. There will be far fewer people as well.
But my unvarnished opinion is this: I adored Southern Iceland over the Golden Circle activities – it was raw, desolate, remote, and gorgeous. If you only have a few days or don’t have a private vehicle, then by all means head for the Golden Circle. You won’t regret it. But Southern Iceland was magnificent and is worth a visit if you can squeeze it in.
We tucked ourselves into this little cabin which was perfect for exploring all three attractions. It came complete with hot pot (hot tub), swings, and a trampoline. At night, the cows across the street would slowly walk home to the barn, their bells tinkling.
Over the year we’ve noticed that we need to work ‘down days’ for the kids into the schedule. After going full bore for four days (and dealing with jet lag) we needed a day to relax, play outside, and take multiple daily hot tub dips.
Let’s just say that travelling with two car-seat age kids is not an exercise in minimalism.
Geysir is the origin for our English word geyser
as the Icelandic version was the first described geologic feature in print. In its heyday, Geysir had eruptions up to 500 feet high, however, it went mostly quiet in the 1900s and today erupts only rarely.
Thus it is Geysir’s nearby neighbor Stokkur that draws the crowds today. She is quite reliable, erupting every 8-10 minutes. The general site is small and can be explored in roughly 60 minutes.
The pools contain boiling water so keep a tight hold on your wee ones as there are no firm barriers, only warning signs and a thin rope. We saw one teenage step over the rope and dip his finger into the water; he walked away with a scalded digit and an important life lesson. OUCH!
My favorite of the three attractions was Thingvellier National Park. On a sunny day you could spend hours moseying the countryside, picnicking by the waterfall, or plunging into the shockingly cold Silfra Fissure.
Iceland was colonized in 874 AD by Norwegian setters but it wasn’t until 930 that a formal council was established. After the original land owner was found guilty of murder his land was seized by the local chieftain, it was agreed that the area would make an excellent meeting location for the general assembly. The parliament at Thingvellier remained in place until infighting by chieftains caused Norway (and later Denmark) to take back political control of the island in the 13th century. Iceland became a republic in 1944.
Geologically speaking, Thingvellier is exceptional as it is a rift valley, formed as the North American and Eurasian plates slowly separated. The continual continental drift adds approximately 1″ in width to the valley each year.
The Silfra Fissure is the extension of Thingvellier Lake and was caused by one of Iceland’s frequent earthquakes. Meltwater from a nearby glacier seeps into the ground and is filtered by porous rocks, creating exceptionally clear (and freezing!!) water.
My one regret for Thingvellier: Not going on one of the scuba diving expeditions in Silfra Crack. Not only is visibility often in excess of 250 feet, but at the narrowest point you can touch two continental plates simultaneously. Perhaps that’s something only geologists get excited about? 🙂
Activities: Gullfoss, Geysir, Thingvellir National Park
-Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring